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The Double Switch in Baseball Explained

Most baseball players and fans know one of the most basic rules in baseball is the batting order can’t change after it’s been set. Players can be substituted into the batting order, but the batting order itself can’t change. The one caveat to this rule is that baseball managers use a technique called the Double Switch. But what is a double switch in baseball?

The double switch is a substitution strategy used by managers to change their batting order in a way that gives their offense the best chance of scoring runs. The double switch is traditionally used to ensure a relief pitcher is the last batter in the next inning.

Infographic demonstrating how to perform a double switch in baseball

The baseball double switch strategy is a pseudo way to change the batting order, but in a legal way. To better understand the strategy, let’s look at a step-by-step guide to how the MLB double switch strategy works in a game.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Executing a Double Switch in Baseball

Fans don’t typically get to hear what MLB managers say to players and umpires, which means baseball fans can be taken by surprise when the batting lineup changes a lot after one mound visit from the manager. This leads a lot of fans to wonder – how does a double switch work?

To perform the double switch, a manager must do four things:

  1. Inform the umpire of the double switch move before substituting a new pitcher
  2. Substitute a position player from the bench for the current pitcher
  3. Substitute a relief pitcher for a current position player
  4. Swap the fielding positions of the two new fielders

Step 1: Managers Must Inform the Umpire of Using a Double Switch Before Calling For a New Pitcher

Baseball coach wearing number 6 talking to an umpire

When a defensive team wishes to use the double switch strategy, the manager must let the umpire know about the double switch before signaling to the bullpen for a new pitcher. If the manager forgets to let the umpire know, they are unable to use a double switch.

While it’s not mandatory for managers to be on defense to utilize a double switch, it is common. Or at least it was a common scenario prior to the 2022 MLB season, when the National League started using Designated Hitters to bat for the pitcher. After this rule change, MLB’s double-switch strategy has been used a lot less.

However, the MLB still has it in their rules that managers need to inform umpires about the double switch before bringing in a relief pitcher. The rule reads as follows:

If a double-switch is being made, the manager or coach shall first notify the plate umpire. The umpire-in-chief must be informed of the multiple substitutions and interchanged batting order before the manager calls for a new pitcher (regardless of whether the manager or coach announces the double-switch before crossing the foul line). Signaling or motioning to the bullpen is to be considered an official substitution for the new pitcher. It is not permissible for the manager to go to the mound, call for a new pitcher, and then inform the umpire of multiple substitutions with the intention of interchanging the batting order.

Step 2: A Relief Pitcher Replaces a Position Player

Infographic demonstrating how a relief pitcher from the bench needs to replace a current position player as part of a double switch move in baseball

After the umpire is aware the manager wants to use a double switch, the manager then brings in a relief pitcher to replace a position player.

In most scenarios, the position player that gets replaced is whoever bats last in the next inning.

Step 3: A Benched Position Player Replaces the Current Pitcher

Infographic demonstrating how a position player from the bench needs to replace the current pitcher as part of a double switch move in baseball

After a relief pitcher comes in for another position player, the manager needs to replace the current pitcher with a player on the bench who is a position player.

In most scenarios, this position player will be able to play wherever the relief pitcher is currently located.

So if the relief pitcher is currently playing left field, the manager needs to bring in a left fielder for the current pitcher.

Step 4: Manager Swaps the Fielding Positions of the Two New Players

Infographic demonstrating how to swap the positions of players to complete a double switch in baseball

After the two new players enter the lineup, the manager then swaps their defensive positions. This allows the relief pitcher to be on the mound while the position player plays defense.

In baseball, it is a legal move for a manager to swap the defensive positions of fielders at any time. When performing a double switch in baseball, managers swap the defensive positions of the two new defensive players after they’ve entered the lineup.

Additional Ways to Use a Double Switch Without Replacing a Pitcher

The main benefit of using the double switch in baseball is that managers can take relief pitchers, who are known for being bad hitters, and place them toward the bottom of the order for the next inning. But in what other scenarios could a manager use the double switch without replacing a pitcher?

Baseball is full of one-off scenarios where a certain strategy could work so I’m sure there’s more than one scenario, but I could think of at least one additional way managers might want to use the double switch that doesn’t involve replacing the current pitcher.

Using the Double Switch When Your Star Player Pinch Hits

A baseball player in the batter's box is swinging and about to make contact with the pitch

In Major League Baseball, most players get days off, including star players. And on occasion, that star player can come in to pinch-hit later in the game. This is especially true when the game is close and the manager cares more about scoring runs than what position his players are playing on defense.

For example, Albert Pujols came in to pinch hit in the 8th inning when he hit his 695th home run against the Chicago Cubs. That worked out well for the offense, but the problem was that the player Pujols replaced played right field and Pujols was exclusively an infielder.

When a star player comes in to pinch hit late in the game, the manager has 3 options on what to do with his lineup:

  1. Keep that player in the game and let him play whatever position he substituted with
  2. Use another substitute player from the bench
  3. Double switch with another position player to keep that star player in the game

In most cases, managers will just replace the star player with another substitute player. But if they really wanted to, they have the option to use the double switch method with another position player so their star player can remain in the game.

And while it’s probably not considered a “double switch” by definition (since the substitutions didn’t happen at the exact same time), this method still follows the exact same procedure as using the double switch strategy to replace a pitcher.

Do You Have to Replace a Pitcher to Use a Double Switch?

Boston Red Sox pitcher on the mound in the middle of his delivery

Replacing a pitcher to use a double switch in baseball is not required.

While a double switch is most commonly used to move a relief pitcher to a lower spot in the batting order, the double switch could also be used to move any other position into another spot in the batting order.

Managers can swap defensive positions of players at any time so there is nothing illegal about using this strategy on two non-pitcher positions.

However, a majority of the benefit of using the double switch came from moving a relief pitcher into a lower spot in the batting order. As of the 2022 MLB season, the National League allows Designated Hitters (DH) to bat for pitchers, which basically leaves the double switch method ineffective.

Designated Hitters are like a 10th player in a lineup and they are much more effective for a lineup than using the double switch strategy.

Why Do Baseball Teams Use the Double Switch?

Baseball teams have traditionally used the double switch strategy to organize their batting order in a way that favors the offense. Usually, this is achieved by making sure a relief pitcher bats last during the next inning.

However, the MLB started allowing designated hitters to bat for pitchers in the National League at the beginning of the 2022 MLB season, which removed most of the incentive for managers to use a double switch.

Every manager would prefer to use a designated hitter over utilizing a double switch because the designated hitter has more experience hitting than the pitcher they replaced in the batting order.

Why Don’t Managers Just Change the Batting Order?

Blank baseball lineup on a small paper napkin that uses peanuts to show the defensive position of players

While managers use the double switch to change the batting order, some fans might wonder why they need to go through all these complicated steps. Can you change the batting order in baseball?

Once a baseball batting order is set, the order can’t change. Batting out of turn is illegal in baseball and can result in an automatic out if caught.

However, managers can use substitute players whenever they like and managers can swap positions of players whenever they like. So when they use the double switch strategy, it’s kind of like changing up the batting order with substitute players, but in a legal way.

Who Invented the Double Switch?

When doing some research on this topic there seems to be some controversy around who invented the double switch. The Double Switch strategy was not something that was well documented so some people have differing opinions on when the double switch started. However, two managers seem to be at the top of each list.

Alvin Dark Used a Double Switch in a 1962 World Series Game

According to The Straight Dope, the first documented double switch was used in the 1962 World Series game. In the top of the 9th inning, the San Francisco Giants did a double swap with their catcher and pitcher. This means the manager of the Giants, Alvin Dark, was the first documented case of the double switch.

Clark Griffith Used a Double Switch in 1906

On the other hand, Answers.com lists Clark Griffith as being the first person to utilize the double switch in 1906.

Clark Griffith was a player-manager and he put himself in to pitch in the eighth inning. When he placed himself into the game as the relief pitcher, he put himself in as a substitute for the catcher. At the same time, he put himself in, he also replaced the current pitcher with another catcher from the bench.

This move may be the first-ever documented case of someone in the major leagues utilizing the double switch method.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.